One of the small delights of a New Year is wondering about who my conversation partners might be over the coming year. But, when I say “conversation partners”, I’m not just talking about the people I might physically talk with, I’m also thinking about the books I’ll read (or listen to), the films I’ll watch, and the online interviews and conversations I will listen to.
I also took some time to review all the conversations I listened to on On Being with Krista Tippett. Listening in on her conversations has been a practice of mine since her early days on Speaking of Faith, and the range and depth has been such a gift.
Here are my Top 7 conversations from her show over the course of 2016. They’re not in any order, other than they’re the seven conversations that have stayed with me, and particularly nourished my own journey and exploration.
“On Being - Taking up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet.”
Summer is always a time to reflect for me, and each year my focus is a little different. This year, it’s been politics that has captured my imagination: politics and the interface between justice, community-building, and human thriving. I reflected a little in late December, and have continued to read and listen. Deepening inequality and injustice profoundly concern me. I’m concerned by the rise of fascism. Thinkers like Tim Jackson have entered into the conversation. Other conversationalists have been Pope Francis, Noam Chomsky, US-born Iranian film director Ramin Bahrani and his profound 2015 film 99 Homes(spoiler alert – review here), Michael Moore, and US-historian Thomas Frank (his most recent book is a stunner and is sure to be both provocative and controversial (for some) - Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (March 2016)
Documentary filmmaker and author Michael Moore, always controversial, does a fabulous job at getting the issues out on the table in his 2009 film Capitalism: A Love Story (watch for early Bernie Sanders, who back in 2008/09 still made a lot of sense). While featuring Barack Obama in a positive light (Obama having in 2008 becoming the US President-Elect), I imagine Moore would have had a very different take of him at the close of his second term if that documentary had been released in 2017. Certainly I’ve been deeply disappointed by Obama’s two-term Presidency. So much potential for change squandered and allowed to be bought. I watched Capitalism: A Love Story for the first time earlier this week. Worth re-reading, this side of the US-elections, is Moore’s prescient“Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win” (from memory it came out around July 2016)
There have been numerous other documentaries well worth watching, e.g. 2005’s The Corporation. Or 2011’s The Inside Job. Or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
I also highly recommend listening to Thomas Frank, here (The US Election and those who have been left Behind) and here (Thomas Frank and the New “liberal”). Neither conversation is particularly long, but both pack a punch. While his latest book focuses on the US Democratic Party, it nonetheless has real relevance in other Western countries such as my own.
Today, a wonderful conversation with one of the most profound influences on my Jesus-following journey, Eugene Peterson. Peterson is talking to Krista Tippett on On Being. The interview aired 22 December 2016.
“"Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming." These are words of the beloved biblical interpreter, teacher, and pastor Eugene Peterson. Frustrated with the unimaginative way he found his congregants treating their Bibles, he translated it himself and that translation has sold millions of copies around the world. Eugene Peterson’s down-to-earth faith hinges on a love of metaphor and a commitment to the Bible’s poetry as what keeps it alive to the world.”
You’ll find it here. The photo credit is Greg Fromholz, himself an interesting character. For a filmed conversation between Bono and Peterson (released earlier this year), see this April 2016 post.
‘Dr Iain Provan's new book Convenient Myths talks about how modern culture constructs myths to suit the temper of the time.
Iain Provan has been the Marshall Sheppard Professor of Biblical Studies at Regent College since 1997. In this interview he takes on modern tendencies to re-write history and create myths to suit current thoughts and attitudes.’
I was surprised by how much this 30 min conversation engaged me. You can find the downloadable podcast here.
And again, another link to an earlier post highlighting the recent lecture series delivered at St. Martins-in-the-Field, London (Sept-Nov. 2016). Specifically, I want to highlight the lecture delivered by US Theologian Stanley Hauerwas. It was delivered ahead of the 2016 Presidential Elections, and as a “yellow dog democrat” his early vote had been for Hillary Clinton. His hope, along with many many other people in America and all around the world, was that she would convincingly beat Donald Trump.
But as we all know, that wasn’t to be the case and the US (and the wider world) has to contend with President-Elect, and soon to be 45th President of the United States of America Donald J. Trump.
Hauerwas is well worth listening too and he offers some useful theological / Christian insights into Trump and the state of the US, John Milbank and a range of other subjects. So, I particularly want to single that talk out from the other fine lectures delivered by equally fine thinkers.
You’ll find his talk (audio) here, along with the question and answer session. You’ll fine a ‘hard’ copy of his address here.
I hadn’t heard of English-born Irish poet Michael Longley until I listened to a recent On Being podcast. What a fascinating and wise conversation (aired 3rd November 2016). At once, both insightful and poetic. I was captivated. All the more so as I drove and listened and watched the sun rise in the East. Again I’m so very grateful for the gifts of poets and poetry in my life.
“To reassert the liveliness of ordinary things, precisely in the face of what is hardest and most broken in life and society — this has been Michael Longley’s gift to Northern Ireland as one of its foremost living poets. He is a voice for all of us now, wise and winsome about the force of words in a society that has moved away from sectarianism in living memory. A profound conversation before an adoring crowd at The MAC Belfast.”
Longley (b. 27th July 1939), it turns out, has written more than 20 books of poetry, including Collected Poems, Gorse Fires, and his most recent collection, The Stairwell. He was the professor of poetry for Ireland from 2007 to 2010 and is the winner of the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, the Hawthornden Prize, and the Griffen Prize. In 2015 he was honored with the Freedom of the City of Belfast. In relation to religion, an atheist, he describes himself as a "sentimental" disbeliever.
You’ll find the conversation here. See also the video recording, and listen to Longley reading several of his poems.
St. Martin-in-the-Fields in London UK, over the months of September, October and November 2016, has hosted a lecture series under the title: Who is my Neighbour? The Ethics of Global Relationships. The first lecture in the series was delivered by Rowan Williams. Following lectures were delivered by Stanley Hauerwas, Sarah Coakley, Michael Northcott, Sarah Teather, and Sam Wells, the Vicar of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, concludes the series on the 14th November.
“With the UK voting to leave the European Union and with realisation of increasing division, xenophobia, and confusion over future national and international relationships, the St Martin-in-the-Fields Autumn Lecture Series examines the crucial question: Who is my Neighbour?
What does the Christian commandment to love one’s neighbour as oneself actually means for us today. Lectures by renowned theologians and practitioners will reflect on this subject in relation to issues of ecology, immigration, fear and discrimination, the present political climate both in UK, Europe and the USA and how that the lives of our poorest neighbours may in fact be God’s gift to us as a church and as a nation.”
You’ll find the list of the guest speakers and their (downloadable) talks here. You’ll also find a pre-lecture Things Unseen interview with Hauerwas here.
UPDATED (Nov 10th onwards) - See Comments for Links I've appreciated post election
I’m not a regular subscriber to Australian publication Quarterly Essay, but issue number 63 is a real gem. It’s written by Don Watson and is titled: Enemy Within: American Politics in the Time of Trump
In Enemy Within, Don Watson takes a memorable journey into the heart of the United States in the year 2016 – and the strangest election campaign that country has seen.
“Travelling in the Midwest, Watson reflects on the rise of Donald Trump and the “thicket of unreality” that is the American media. Behind this he finds a deeply fearful and divided culture. Watson considers the irresistible pull – for Americans – of the Dream of exceptionalism, and asks whether this creed is reaching its limit. He explores alternate futures – from Trump-style fascism to Sanders-style civic renewal – and suggests that a Clinton presidency might see a new American blend of progressivism and militarism. Enemy Within is an eloquent, barbed look at the state.’
You can find more information about this issue, here.
I finally managed to catch up on a conversation with Don Watson (originally aired on the 3rd October 2016, but recorded on the 25th September 2016 at the Brisbane Powerhouse) , a week out from the 2016 US Presidential Elections. He articulated well so much of my own reading of the ‘state of play’, while at the same time adding layers and nuances I’d never have been able to articulate so well.
‘Don Watson ventured into the 'heartland' to take the pulse of America during the presidential election campaign. In this fascinating interview Watson reflects that ‘...so large and varied is America, it is really not one place at all. Watson is fond of America and what it represents. "A wonderland of invention, a marvel of freedom and tolerance, and by most measures the greatest country on earth", is how he describes the US. But he is no fan of Donald Trump and thinks his rival for the Presidency, Hilary Clinton, enhances Trump's chances of victory. The America Don Watson observes is a fractured and fearful place.’
Today a Richard Rohr OFM, 7-minute sermon / homily from April 24th 2016. The sermon draws from the gospel reading of the day, John 13:31-35. It’s well worth a listen. Fr. Richard Rohr often speaks at his local parish, Holy Family Church, in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
You’ll find many other Rohr sermons / homilies here. They’re the kind of thought-provoking, pithy sermons you’d expect from Rohr, and the kind you wish you were hearing every week if you were going to church, in the kind of church-community that would welcome Rohr and sermons of this type.